Boots on the Ground
San José Public Library, CA
MSLIS, Pratt Institute, New York, 2008
His family lives in a cabin “in the middle of nowhere,” just on the edge of cell phone range, making it easy to hike, explore, and mushroom-hunt in the wilderness
Photo ©Sean McGinty Photography LLC
Nate Hill offers library patrons new and user-friendly experiences by merging technology, design, and innovative ideas aimed at reenvisioning libraries.
His focus on user experience led him to propose flexible library spaces and create compelling, easy-to-use websites and digital tools, such as the mobile web app Scan Jose.
Funded by the Library Services & Technology Act and California State Library, Scan Jose connects people with smartphones, digital tablets, or web-enabled GPS devices to an interactive tour of San José historical sites. Tour-takers link to location-specific images from the San José Public Library’s California Room to learn about the events and people who shaped the community.
“The idea was to take our dusty old pictures that are just sitting around…outside the library walls and create these walking tours,” Hill says.
Scan Jose is an example of Hill’s interest in developing interesting methods to communicate information visually, says Aaron Schmidt, Hill’s partner at Influx Library User Experience Consulting in Portland, OR. Trained in art and design, Hill is as likely to pick up a paintbrush as a pen when he brainstorms, says Schmidt. “He’s figuring out how to tell the library story in a different and engaging way.”
Hill has been reenvisioning library service since grad school, when he first proposed that the Brooklyn Public Library launch The Outpost Library, a flexible storefront marked by its lack of a permanent collection. An Outpost offers extended hours, top-notch reference service, a place to pick up requested items, and room for classes, community events, and creative endeavors. “It was anticipating the idea of libraries working as hacker spaces,” Hill says.
Although the Outpost wasn’t realized in Brooklyn, as Hill had hoped, libraries in Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Palm Springs, CA, were inspired by the flexible space concept, according to Gretchen Caserotti, assistant director for public services at Darien Library, CT.
Flexible space led Hill to collaborate on Library Lab, easily built and movable, multipurpose modular furnishings for digital hot spots. Submitted to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) as a physical footprint, the Library Lab was not among the nine selected by DPLA. However, it is being used by the District of Columbia Public Library, according to Caserotti.
“He’s bringing a perspective to the DPLA discussion that is both boots on the ground and big picture,” Schmidt says.